IT was strange seeing the away end completely empty on Friday night with the pocket of travelling Salford fans clustered in the North Stand.

There were a few home fans missing, too, and likewise the gate at the mouth-watering Warrington versus Leeds clash was even lower, and Vikings’ attendance against Catalan was sub 5,000.

You don’t have to look that far for answer – in fact it was literally blowing in the wind. Walking home that night I came across a pub bedecked with more flags than the Shankill Road on the 12th of July.

England were only playing a friendly against Peru, but the first symptoms were there – it is the onset of World Cup fever.

The tournament will present a difficult four or five weeks for rugby league – but to be honest it has done since the switch to summer.

Noticeably some smart scheduling means that Saints’ all too rare Sunday home game against Castleford on June 22 will avoid any match clashes, likewise the trip to Wigan the following Friday.

Aside from that there is little else rugby league can do to counter blanket football coverage and a fervour that will sweep up people that don’t normally give sport the time of day.

The football World Cup is always massive – and for a lot of people its offers real landmark in their lives.

I still remember the first World Cup I watched in 1974, cheering Scotland in the 2-0 group stage win over Zaire and then naively asking my mam why Billy Bremner hadn’t been given the cup.

It is huge, taking twice as long as the Olympics and with 65 games it will take over.

But it is not just direct match clashes that will affect rugby league attendance during this time. We have to be realistic and accept that a good portion of the working person’s leisure budget can get used up watching big events. The pubs will be packed when England play.

All Saints marketing folk can do is live around it, just like Wimbledon tennis and Glastonbury does, and make it part of the build up to match day.

And with the Aussies in there again, there is bound to be a bit of in-house banter among the players.